* Method of elections, powers of authority and the role of the president of the republic: public opinion versus constitutional practice

In every democratic system, the position of the head of state has a specific meaning and various administrative and constitutional embedment. It is an institutional as well as symbolic expression of the state’s sovereignty, of its “unity in diversity” in the context of pluralistic democracy. Conceptual arrangements are very diverse within modern democratic constitutionality: in some states, the head of state is only a symbol of constitutionality and his/her powers are either entirely formal (Great Britain) or very restricted (Federal Republic of Germany, Austria).

In such a situation, another authority (prime minister, chancellor) usually becomes the constitutional power representative of the state. In other countries, symbolic as well as constitutional and administrative expression of the constitutionality is merged – a typical model, where the head of state serves as a symbol of the state’s unity and at the same time is a constitutionally and administratively a strong institution is the presidential system of the United States (Blahož, Balaš, Klíma: 91-104). In the constitutional and political practice of modern democracies there is a varied and variable range of constitutional schemes oscillating between the head of state functioning as head of executive (presidential system) on one side and head of state with ceremonial roles without any arbitrary functions on the other side.

Even though the Czech Republic is a classical parliamentary democracy from a constitutional and legislative point of view, and not a presidential (or so-called partially presidential democracy), at the same time it grants the president vast immunity and significant powers (particularly strong powers of appointment) in relation to practically all constituents of the executive system. The president is certainly not only a formal head of state or its formal representative. Therefore, the Czech Republic is a parliamentary republic, but with a significant role of the president of the republic, who is an indirectly elected (by parliament) constitutional agent with very specific position and function. The role of the president is based on the model of parliamentary republic, which determines the systematical categorization of the president as a part of the executive power. However, he is also a sui genesis authority, that is, a sort of a mediator between powers and an assistant in solving critical situations (Gerloch, Hřebejk, Zoubek: 305 - 306).

The method of presidential election and president’s role corresponds with the construction of the Czech parliamentary system. President of the republic (article 54 – article 66) is the head of state elected by parliament. He is not amenable to the parliament and the parliament cannot dismiss him from the office. His non-accountability stipulated by the constitution, is related to the fact that his decisions must be countersigned (by the prime minister or an authorized government member). The relatively strong constitutional position of the Czech head of state also follows from certain “autocratic” principles embedded in the constitution. In certain areas he is not bound by another politician, e.g. he doesn’t need counter-signature for his decisions (appointing officials of Czech National Bank). The irrevocability of the president combined with certain significant powers (power to appoint the government and - under certain circumstances - dismiss the lower chamber of the parliament) is a key for understanding the meaning of his particular constitutional and political role: the president should serve as a mediator or guarantor of the continuity of the state’s power and therefore also as a representative of the state’s identity and integrity, hence a certain constant of the constitutional and political system.

We should note that in our constitutional tradition, the president as a head of state is a conventional institute based on a strong Masaryk tradition, which is directly linked to the foundadtion of an independent state of the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1918. The role of the president is still held in high regard and there is no doubt that the person should be, and to a certain measure is, reflected by the public as a natural keystone of the society. In this context it is not surprising that the president of the republic is in a long term the most trustworthy constitutional institution in the post-November history (let me remind you, by way of illustration, that during the past year and a half nearly three quarters of the questioned have expressed their trust in the head of state).

The president’s role in creating and maintaining political stability, in communicating among parliamentary political parties or in creating civil society is irreplaceable and unique at the same time. In some areas it matches his constitutional powers. His position therefore doesn’t depend only and solely on constitutoinal articles (or on the method of his election). Even in the conditions of parliamentary regime the president can, on the basis of the political situation in the country (party system, division of political powers in the parliament), historical and social context, but also on the basis of his personality and charisma, political talent, etc. significantly affect his own position. In certain constellation, the president can play a more significant role in the Czech political system than that stipulated by the letter of the Constitutional articles.


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